Robbinsdale Area Schools

Superintendent David Engstrom: On planning and equity

As I wrote to all Robbinsdale Area Schools families last week, our district has embarked on a new strategic plan. Like the document adopted in 2014 and updated in 2018, the new plan will be centered in equity. 

But what does that mean? 

The Equity Policy adopted by our school board four years ago put it, in part, like this: 

Robbinsdale Area Schools defines equity as setting the conditions, to the extent possible, to assure access and opportunity for ALL students, while eliminating gaps in performance based on race, socio-economic status, and language. 

Some version of this definition will undoubtedly be part of the new plan. We will need to work even harder not just to define equity, but to live it out in everything we do. 

You may have seen the news about the increase of nearly three percentage points in our 2021 graduation rate. With 83.1 percent of all students graduating – even after a pandemic year – this was our highest overall graduation rate in nine years and the culmination of four years of effort to tailor instruction to each individual.

Graduation rates went up for all racial groups except for Latino/Hispanic students. Asian American students graduated at the highest rate, 91.4 percent, followed by white (89.6 percent), bicultural/multicultural (86.4 percent), Black/African American (77.8 percent) and American Indian (70.6 percent). 

Clearly, we have not yet eliminated the gaps. It’s vital that we do so. But even more is at stake.

In April’s The Atlantic, writer George Packer asks “What is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution.” 

This shaken faith, along with the vulnerabilities revealed in K-12 public education (too few personnel, conflicting pandemic messaging, generations of trusted tradition in smithereens), has opened the doors of our schools to people with axes to grind, axes that could ultimately destroy the institution of the public school. 

Packer makes a strong argument for supporting and strengthening this institution:

One reason we have a stake in the education of other people’s children is that they will grow up to be citizens. Education is a public interest . . . Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think. In an authoritarian or rigidly meritocratic system, schools select the elites who grow up to make the decisions. A functioning democracy needs citizens who know how to make decisions together.

Our district, like every other public school district in America, can help create such citizens. One way to do this is to celebrate our diversity as the strength it is. 

The kids already get it. They increasingly lift their collective voices to call for the equity that brings us together, as a district and a nation. We can follow them, or get out of their way.

Creating a solid strategic plan requires everyone to pitch in and share their thoughts. Please take a moment to respond to this brief survey

There will be additional, in-person opportunities for you to share your thoughts with our leaders and consultants. You can find out more about our strategic planning effort on our website. To help guide those conversations, please fill out the survey by Tuesday, April 19.

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